Thursday, May 21, 2009

Old rules for lighting up in Contra Costa may be up in smoke

Apartment landlords would have to alert prospective tenants of which neighbors smoke and how they handle cigarette complaints under an updated secondhand smoking ordinance Contra Costa supervisors will discuss today.

The supervisors will vote on recommendations that add teeth to already strict smoking regulations in unincorporated Contra Costa County. The ordinance could also hold restaurant owners liable for smoking in outdoor dining areas, a regulation that some proprietors have been ignoring, said Wendel Brunner, Contra Costa's public health director.

Upon supervisors' direction, county counsel and the county's Tobacco Prevention Project will craft amendments to the county's 2006 Secondhand Smoke Protections Ordinance and return it to the board for formal approval. Contra Costa's regulations already restrict smoking in many public areas, including trails and parks; service areas, such as ATMs or bus stops; and common indoor and outdoor areas of multiunit residences, among other restrictions.

The county is stopping short of recommending a ban on smoking anywhere in apartment buildings, like the ordinance Belmont passed.

"We're trying to get away from public health telling people what to do and rather making sure they have the information to make good choices," Brunner said. "I do think secondhand smoking in multiunit complexes is an important issue and we do get a lot of complaints about it."

Prospective tenants would have the Advertisementright to know if smoking is allowed in certain apartments and if any of their neighbors smoke. The rental market may force many apartment buildings to become nonsmoking, Brunner said, if more tenants seek out that environment.

Dee Casarez, 62, of Concord, was enjoying a drag of her cigarette Monday near Todos Santos Plaza.

The apartment dweller and lifetime smoker said the ordinance infuriates her.

"What's offending is the government stepping in and telling us what to do," she said. "If they are going to start doing that, I'll move to Russia, Iraq or Iran "... at least they won't tell me what to do there.

"I'm very conscious of what I do and I totally get what people are saying, but at the same time I expect the same understanding," she said. "We're like second-class citizens. I pay taxes, too."

Meanwhile, some restaurant owners have ignored the rules banning smoking in outdoor dining patios, Brunner said. The ordinance would prohibit ashtrays in those areas and hold owners liable.

Richmond and Pinole city councils will vote on secondhand smoking ordinances Tuesday.

Richmond will vote whether to prohibit cigarette and tobacco product-sampling within city limits, smoking in certain public places, and to require tobacco retailers to secure a license from the police before selling tobacco products.

Pinole will vote whether to ban smoking in public parks, trails and open spaces, along with adding a 20-foot no-smoking buffer around public buildings. The city prohibits smoking in public buildings.

Two weeks ago, the Martinez City Council passed the strictest secondhand smoking ordinance in the county. The city established smoke-free zones within 20 feet of any enclosed area where smoking is prohibited, even private establishments such as bars and restaurants. State law only prohibits smoking within 20 feet of entryways, exits and public buildings' windows.

"There's a moving trend in Contra Costa and the state of California to protect people from these air contaminants," said Denice Dennis, the county's Tobacco Prevention Project manager.

Secondhand smoke is designated a human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A California EPA study in October 2005 linked secondhand smoke to a variety of adverse health effects, including cancer, heart disease and respiratory ailments.

The supervisors will meet at 9 a.m. today in the board chamber, 651 Pine St., Martinez.

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